Madeleine L’Engle “When I think of the incredible, incomprehensible sweep of creation above me, I have the strange reaction of feeling fully alive. Rather than feeling lost and unimportant and meaningless, set against galaxies which go beyond the reach of the furthest telescopes, I feel that my life has meaning.”
We are celebrating the 16th birthday of one of the Native youth at youth group. Pulling from my memory of being with the Ecumenical Institute of Chicago, I ask the other youth to claim a promise for him.
Blank stares greet me. “What is that?” a youth asks.
It took me awhile to collect my thoughts. I stumble a little as I try to think what this means when it seems so obvious to me.
“It means that you see something important that is growing in a person and you want the person to reach for it,” I say.
“You mean a wish?” asks a youth.
“No, it is more than a wish,” I say. “To claim a promise is to state something meaningful that you see in that person.”
They look at me like I have two or three heads.
“Okay,” I say “it is a risk. Someone claimed a promise for me that I would put into words what I am thinking. I felt ten feet high when he said that. I felt like I really could write more on things I thought about rather than experiences of other people.” It seemed lame to me.
One young adult spoke up. “I’ll try it. I claim the promise that he continue to show compassion to other people like he showed it to his younger brother when he got hit.”
“Wow,” the birthday boy says.”That’s deep. That makes me feel strange, like maybe Ican. I.”
“One young girl says, “I can do that. I claim the promise that you use your brain to achieve what you can. You are smart but sometimes you don’t think you are.”
Since that night, we practice this life skill at every birthday and sometimes at celebrations. To claim a promise is to put yourself into seeing something profound about another. Then it is the courage to proclaim it. It is not easy but it is essential to grow in wholeness.